Explaining Transfer & Transfer Details

Explaining Transfer

What does transfer mean?

Transfer in the postsecondary context refers to moving between one college or university to another or between credential levels. Examples include students moving from a college to a university, a university to another university, a university to a college, or between a diploma program and a degree program or from a degree program to an advanced graduate diploma program. Students may transfer fully from one program or school to another, or they may present learning experiences for transfer consideration to a program within their school without leaving their existing college or university. These latter options are typically referred to as internal transfers, program transfers, or change of program.

Why does transfer matter?

Transfer opportunities enable learners to explore and access a variety of educational opportunities in a way that facilitates recognition of their prior learning. This can happen whether this education was achieved through different types of learning experiences. Within the context of the Lisbon Recognition Convention, credit systems were identified as a tool for:

  • promoting transparency in the recognition process; and
  • facilitating the mobility of qualified individuals.

When a student's prior studies are recognized in the assessment process for admission and transfer, it may result in reducing the time it takes for them to complete their second program or subsequent studies and it can diminish repeated learning.

What is transfer credit?

Transfer credit refers to the credit received when an educational institution assesses and recognizes a student's prior studies as being equivalent to a course, part of a course, a block of courses, or a program. This assessment of prior learning results from a student receiving credit toward their new program for studies previously completed.

Relevant links

Transfer details

How does the transfer process work?

Figure 1 provides a high-level overview of the transfer assessment process that Canadian colleges and universities follow, which can vary considerably by institution. Learners who apply to a postsecondary institution may be automatically assessed for transfer credit at some point during the admission process or they may be invited to apply separately for transfer credit consideration. Some postsecondary educational institutions may also offer the learner the option to apply for selective consideration of specific courses at a later time. Information on individual institutions' transfer credit policies and practices is typically available online through their home page.

Figure 1. Sample Transfer Process

Helpful links: How to transfer credit in different provinces

When do learners typically transfer?

Learners who present previous studies for transfer consideration typically do so at the point of admission. They may also request consideration of their studies at another college or university that they took during their existing program of study. An example might be when they have taken a course at another institute simultaneous to their current program and subsequently request that it be considered for transfer. Another example may be when they have studied for an entire term at an international college or university through an exchange program or study-abroad opportunity.

When might a learner not be awarded transfer for prior postsecondary studies?

Circumstances where no transfer credit is awarded can occur when learners do not provide sufficient information or evidence of success in their prior studies, when the former studies were not from a recognized program of study, when there is insufficient overlap or comparability between the prior and current programs of study, or when the learning outcomes or grades achieved were not comparable or were insufficient to support a case for receiving transfer credit. There may also be situations where the prior studies have been used to support admission and therefore cannot be used for transfer credit consideration. In such a situation, although these transfer students have completed prior postsecondary studies, a college or university may determine that they lack the eligibility to be awarded transfer credit toward their new course of study when considered against expectations for program content or the performance requirements for current students within the program. Postsecondary educational institutions also have residency requirements that require a specific number of credits to be completed at the institution to be eligible for the credential.

Postsecondary educational institutions maintain authority over determining when and what type of transfer they award. This ensures that their academic standards, as approved by their academic governing bodies, are maintained and that external requirements are adhered to (e.g., accreditation requirements, licensing boards, etc.).

Postsecondary institutions will grant transfer credits only when the evidence comes directly from the originating institution. This means that a student must provide documentation from all prior postsecondary educational institutions for transfer credit to be evaluated.

What are the typical sources of transfer?

Students who transfer at the postsecondary level typically present studies from varied learning experiences. This usually results in different assessment approaches for both admissions and transfer.

Dual Credit: In the past two decades, Canadian colleges and universities have been collaborating with secondary schools to create dual credit opportunities. These arrangements enable current secondary school students to complete university-level courses that also apply as credit toward their secondary-school diploma. Dual-credit courses are uniquely developed between a specific high school and a postsecondary institution. Those who successfully complete these courses may receive credit toward their postsecondary studies at the other institution.

Upper-Year Transfer: This nomenclature refers to transfer learners who rely on their prior postsecondary studies to obtain transfer credit upon or after admission to another postsecondary program. In this instance, the source for transfer credits is their prior postsecondary studies.

Pathway: While terminology can vary across Canada, this general term is often used to describe learning experiences where the source of transfer credits results from a formally arranged collaboration between two or more partner educational institutions. The partnership's agreement typically focuses on a specific outcome (e.g., to achieve the academic requirements to hold a regulated occupation). The amount of credit awarded is predetermined and results from a previous assessment of the two programs. The degree and nature of how the transfer credit is applied can vary and may be further influenced by the program of study that the student subsequently pursues.

Partnership: Sometimes there is a transfer arrangement between two or more educational institutions that results from a formal agreement that is focused on enabling learners to move from one program to another program with clearly outlined requirements (e.g., completion of specific courses, achievement of specific grades). The agreement predetermines the requirements learners must achieve, their status in the transfer program, and credits received, if applicable. There are several terms that can be used to describe transfer partnerships such as joint programs, collaborative, dual degrees, conjoined programs, etc. The terminology used is very contextualized to a given region or institution.

Bridging/Upgrading: This phrase refers to programs that prepare students for further studies and thus ease the transition into certificate, diploma, and degree programs. Bridging and upgrading programs enable learners to upgrade their skills and knowledge to enhance their ability to be successful. Some bridging programs are credit bearing, while others are not. Bridging/upgrading programs sometimes offer transfer opportunities.

Articulation: A formal agreement that identifies the transfer credit that can transfer between two educational institutions (or more), articulation normally involves a course-to-course analysis or comparison. However, it may also involve whole programs and occur across multiple sectors within or across provinces or territories.

Advanced Placement: in some jurisdictions, such as Saskatchewan, advanced placement courses may result in some transfer credits being awarded. Educational institutions have the sole authority to determine how the awarded credits will fit into a program of study.

International Baccalaureate: international baccalaureate graduates may be awarded with some transfer credits in some jurisdictions, such as Saskatchewan.Transfer credits occurring as part of an international baccalaureate often follow a procedure similar to the one for advanced placements.

What are common types of transfer?

The following list provides a general overview of the common transfer types; however, the types of transfer can vary considerably and be contextually specific to individual regions, sectors, and educational institutions. Learners will want to visit specific institutional websites and transfer system websites for further information. A helpful initial guide is the ARUCC PCCAT Transcript and Transfer Guide.

Specified transfer credit: when a course at one institution is deemed to be equivalent to a specific course offered by another institution. Credit is granted for the specific course equivalent.

Block transfer credit: when a set amount of credit is granted for completing all or part of a program at one institution to another institution. Block credit is common in articulation agreements.

Assigned transfer credit: may be considered when transfer credit is specifically allocated to a particular program or subject area.

Unassigned transfer credit: represents those situations when credit is granted at a year and/or subject level or to a particular thematic area (e.g., General Studies, Liberal Studies, etc.) but it is not assigned to a specific course.

Assessed transfer credit(s): may or may not apply to a specific credential. Courses that are deemed to be transferable at the institution level by a receiving postsecondary institution are considered to be assessed transfer credit.

Useable transfer credit: assessed transfer credits that can be applied to a specific credential at a receiving institution.

Prior learning assessment recognition (PLAR) credit: refers to the recognition of learning outside of a formal educational institutions. Postsecondary educational institutions may determine this learning to be equivalent to postsecondary-level studies based on the evidence provided during admissions or as a result of a more comprehensive assessment directly with the education provider (e.g., military training) and grant credit to recognize this learning. PLAR enables recognition of prior learning for admissions, and, in some instances, transfer credit.

Relevant links

Comprehensive review of this information: August 2021